With so much hubbub surrounding really silly stuff at the Oscars-- like Seth MacFarlane's "We Saw Your Boobs" musical number and Jennifer Lawrence's trip on the way to the stage-- it's become terrifyingly easy to overlook a very real issue behind the scenes. Near the red carpet on Sunday, but far from the cameras that were trained on starlets and their gowns, more than 400 visual effects artists were protesting the awards. When Life of Pi won for Best Visual Effects, winner Bill Westenhofer attempted to bring attention to the fact that his company is facing bankruptcy… and was cut off by the theme from Jaws.
It was a confusing situation, seeing those responsible for the effects in the mega-successful Life of Pi claiming bankruptcy, but it's a true and sobering fact about how your visual effects sausage gets made. As we explained writing about the protest, many visual effects jobs these days are outsourced overseas, and those that do get work in the United States are forced to bid against each other for work, often lowballing themselves and forcing their artists into miserable positions. If you want even more detail about how this works, check out this insightful piece on The Billfold, which reveals that the visual effects industry is the only film trade without a union to support the artists being mistreated by these policies.
And as happy as we are to see Ang Lee, who fought the studio to secure the big budget for Life of Pi's impressive effects, win the Best Director Oscar, he's not escaping this controversy. Speaking after the Oscars about the financial troubles faced by Pi's effects creators Rhythm & Hues, Lee said "I would like it to be cheaper and not a tough business… it's very hard for them to make money." Of course, a major reason that visual effects are so expensive are the salaries of the people creating things like Pi's CGI tiger, which is what inspired VFX artist Phillp Broste to write this open letter:
Mr. Lee, I do believe that you are a thoughtful and brilliant man. And a gifted filmmaker. But I also believe that you and everyone in your tier of our business is fabulously ignorant to the pain and turmoil you are putting artists through.
You can click over to Film School Rejects to read the rest of the letter, and keep coming back for more information on what's only becoming a bigger and bigger issue in Hollywood.
Photo Credit ©ABC